Alone on the Water

My mind has not yet touched the reality that he is leaving. I can barely remember life without him in it. He’s slyly inserted himself into all my memories, as if he’d been there all along. He’s there in Afghanistan, sitting on the next cot, commenting on the other men, bothering me when I’m trying to stitch someone up. He’s at Bart’s, interrupting my study time to drag me over to the morgue, stealing my textbooks and marking them up in red pen when he finds errors. He’s at school with me, at home, in the park I played in as a child.

I stand in our living room and watch him go back to his files. At some point over the past two years he and I have become a hybrid. Sherlock-and-John. The graft has been so complete that even when we’re separated, for days or weeks as has occasionally occurred, I still feel the invisible seam that joins me to him. For a moment, I’m angry. Because he won’t be the one who’ll have to cut away half of himself and go back to being a singular entity. John-and-[redacted]. The seam will remain, though. I will bear the scar down my center to remind me of what I’ve lost.

We introduce each other as flatmates. What we really mean is that we’re friends. People sometimes assume that we’re lovers. None are accurate descriptions. I’m not sure the English language has a word for what we are. Harry once called us “hetero life partners.” Sherlock liked that. It made him laugh. I don’t know if that covers it, either. We’re just – well, we’re just us.

All I know is that there is a deep pit in my chest and it’s yawning wide and hollow and in a minute it’s going to swallow me and I can’t let him see that. “I need to go out for awhile,” I say. My guilt at leaving him alone given the news he’s just been given is mitigated by the knowledge that he’d rather be alone than have to deal with me expressing any emotion.

He just gives me a terse nod. “See you later.”

I turn and clatter down the stairs. My stomach is cramping. I have to hold onto the wall for a moment. I make it outside and hail a cab.

I keep it together until I get to Sarah’s. Yet another relationship in my life that defies categorization. Girlfriend? No. Friend? Yes, but more. Shag buddy? On occasion. These terms might apply, except she’s been more privy to what I go through with Sherlock than anyone. She knows about the seam. It’s made us unable to have what we started out hoping for, but yet unable to retreat into a safe zone of friendship. So we hover here in the land of undefined. She dates other people. I just have Sherlock.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/210785

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2 thoughts on “Alone on the Water

  1. In the first episode of Sherlock, we get the sense that the relationship between Holmes and Watson is not entirely ‘straightforward.’ Right off the bat, Watson agrees to move in with Holmes, a man he barely knows (and who has been described as a psychopath). As the episode progresses, Watson follows Holmes like a moth to light, lured by the prospect of adventure, excitement, and companionship. To a viewer who is trained to absorb media through a heterosexual lens, this developing relationship might seem entirely ‘straight’ and comparable to other famous ‘buddy’ pairs (like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dumb and Dumber, etc.) However, as Doty explains, “queer positions, queer readings, and queer pleasures are part of a reception space that stands simultaneously beside and within that created by heterosexual and straight positions.” In other words, even if an individual does not see the queerness between Holmes and Watson, that queerness is still there! Regardless of the viewer’s perspective, the queerness is pretty blatant in the following exchange between Sherlock and John:

    John: “Oh, okay. So you’re unattatched then. Just like me. Fine, good.”
    Sherlock: “… John, erm… I think you should know that I consider myself married to my work, and while I’m flattered I’m not really looking for any– ”
    John: “No, no, that’s not what I… no! I’m just saying… it’s all fine.”
    Sherlock: “… Good. Thank you.”

    Here, we see the main characters directly addressing the queerness between them..which in my opinion, is part of the reason why there is so much fanfic material surrounding the queer ‘Johnlock’ couple. They practically feed you the queerness right there! (Even though, as Doty would argue, the queer was there all along – it doesn’t need to be spelled out).

    Despite the overwhelming number of Johnlock romantic spinoffs out there, this passage you chose stood out to me. A lot of the fanfic material I came across was focused on the physical intimacy between Holmes and Watson. Furthermore, many of these texts were so explicit, they verged on pornography. In contrast, I think this passage does something a little different: it gestures to a physical intimacy through the ‘seam’ metaphor, without going into concrete details. This passage also seems to suggest that Sherlock and Holmes are not simply ‘lovers’ in the conventional sense.The last two sentences are especially potent: “She dates other people. I just have Sherlock.” Here, the author suggests that the relationship between Sherlock and John, in comparison to Sarah and John, does not to fall into the “dating” category. This is a great example of what Doty would describe as “the queer…opertat[ing] within the nonqueer, as the nonqueer does within the queer (whether in reception, texts, or producers.” As the fanfic describes, Sherlock and John have something that exceeds a ‘normal’ relationship (heterosexual OR homosexual for that matter). The author compares their queer relationship to a nonqueer relationship to demonstrate that they are not at all alike. In this fanfic, the fact that Watson cannot find a word in the “English language” to describe his feelings for Holmes seems to make things even queerer – their relationship is so complex, it is entirely unique and indescribable.

    As a side note, I think Sherlock is especially open to queer interpretation in part because of it’s genre. As a mystery series, Sherlock is inherently clever, dark, suspenseful, and unpredictable. Mystery is also closely related (and contains elements of) horror and melodrama. Doty explains that horror and melodrama generate particularly queer spaces because they display heterosexuality-gone-wrong where “everyone’s pleasure is ‘perverse’, is queer, as much of it takes place within the space of the contra-heterosexual and the contra-straight.” Therefore, perhaps the queerness of Holmes and Watson is not entirely unexpected, given the fact that they are operating within an environment that reprimands the nonqueer.

  2. When I read this post, I immediately noticed a connection between some of the themes in the readings and our class discussion on Monday. I thought it was really interesting to read this interpretation of the relationship between John and Sherlock. I also enjoyed reading Jessica’s comment, as it brought up some things I had not even thought about yet. But this is what I did come up with while reading the passage from the Fanfic.
    I do agree that the relationship between John and Sherlock in the show is not as black and white as one would normally see a relationship- are they lovers or are they just friends? Well, really neither. Their friendship seems to be deeper than just simply friends, despite the fact that they both clearly insist that they are “straight” males (and Sherlock being married to his work- does he ever actually specify?) It was definitely interesting to me that in this passage, unlike most of the fanfiction I came across when working on this assignment, John and Sherlock were not just gay lovers. This next part is what really stood out to me:

    “At some point over the past two years he and I have become a hybrid. Sherlock-and-John. The graft has been so complete that even when we’re separated, for days or weeks as has occasionally occurred, I still feel the invisible seam that joins me to him. For a moment, I’m angry. Because he won’t be the one who’ll have to cut away half of himself and go back to being a singular entity. John-and-[redacted]. The seam will remain, though. I will bear the scar down my center to remind me of what I’ve lost.

    We introduce each other as flatmates. What we really mean is that we’re friends. People sometimes assume that we’re lovers. None are accurate descriptions. I’m not sure the English language has a word for what we are. Harry once called us “hetero life partners.” Sherlock liked that. It made him laugh. I don’t know if that covers it, either. We’re just – well, we’re just us.”

    This particular part of the passage really shows exactly the nature of the relationship between the two men, however unclear it may seem. Nevertheless, the description above confuses the general idea that most people seem to have of a typical masculine friendship. This is how I saw a big connection between this passage and our discussion in class on Monday when we discussed gender performance and the queerness theory. There are certain attributes that one associates with men and masculinity, and certain with women and femininity (and also to heterosexual and homosexual personality types). In the above description of the relationship, one can see a very deep, emotional connection- something that is normally attributed to a more feminine identification. By having this present in their relationship, it seems to be more female performed. But John’s insistance, however, that they are both straight, and his mentioning of a “shag buddy” (a woman who he does not want to label) brings back the masculine side of things. This passage really depicts what is going on in the show- constant confusion between the real nature of their relationship. They really do have this “invisible seam” joining them together, but John has a string of girlfriends that seem to prove that he is not gay. But Butler says that “no kind of identity is more ‘true’ or ‘real’ than any other…thus gay is to straight not as a copy is to original, but, rather, as a copy is to a copy” (151). So perhaps John is right, in this case. Can we really put labels on it?

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